Crotch rashes! Guerilla warfare! Mountains of junk food! We’ve got a lot to cover in this week’s recap of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution,” so settle in, people . . . .
The episode opens at West Adams High School, the Los Angeles USD charter school where Jamie Oliver has been filming his work with a culinary class (but where, per a district edict, he’s forbidden from filming in the cafeteria.) As it did last week, the culinary class cooks lunch for a hundred students, this time a selection of salads and a bean wrap. (Raise hands if you screamed at the TV, “Don’t eat the alfalfa sprouts!”) Jamie wants to offer this meal to students in lieu of the LAUSD meal but, as noted last week, we don’t ever hear what the food costs and the student labor is obviously free, so it’s really an apples to oranges comparison. But the meal looks delicious and is well received by the students eating it.
After the meal is served, Hipster Charter School Dude (aka Mentor L.A. CEO Mike McGalliard) shows up with some news. (Totally irrelevant side note: have you ever seen anyone whose “casual” look –hair gelled just so, stubble, v-neck-with-blazer, German architect glasses –is so obviously studied? I laugh every time I see this guy.) The news is that Jamie, who wants to serve his meals to the whole school, will now be permitted to do so if he incorporates cooking lessons into the school’s “advisory” class, a class that prepares kids for college and teaches them good health habits. But we never see the advisory class in this episode – maybe next week?
Then Jamie teaches a West Adams math class. He offers the students a snack — either a large cup of soda, a chocolate bar, an orange, or a piece of pizza — and then discusses the consequences of food choices. He says most girls need 1,800 calories per day and boys 2,200, and that just two months of poor food choices could cause a girl to gain twenty pounds, while a boy could gain thirty pounds in four months. He straps weights onto the kids’ bodies to show them what that excess weight would feel like, and then he sends them around the school track to burn off whatever snack they chose. (E.g., eating an orange — 62 calories — requires three laps, while a chocolate bar — 220 calories — requires eleven laps.)
I don’t love the idea of asking kids to count calories rather than getting them to think about and improve their food choices in a more holistic way, but it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of this lesson. So many kids (and adults, for that matter) eat mindlessly and poorly and either don’t know or don’t care about the possible consequences. No doubt these students will think twice the next time they reach for a soda instead of water.
Then we’re introduced to a new family, the Barretts. Denny Barrett is a single dad with two boys and he doesn’t know the first thing about cooking. The family eats fast food eight or nine times per week and “meals” at home often consist of microwaved convenience food. We also learn that breakfast is sometimes donuts — or even potato chips. I was glad to see Jamie again working with a family, which I found to be the most compelling aspect of the show’s first season in Huntington, WVA. But I did wonder why J.O. didn’t choose the family of Sofia, the West Adams student we met in previous episodes whose family has been devastated by diabetes and whose eating habits (based on what Sofia has told us) are terrible. (Maybe the producers asked and the family refused?)
At any rate, similar to his show in Huntington, Jamie fills the Barretts’ car with one month’s worth of all the fast food they eat. The Barretts make all the appropriate expressions of regret and disgust but then, completely redundantly, the family comes home to find their house filled with one year’s worth of the same food. The Barretts (and no doubt most viewers) seem perplexed that the stunt is being repeated, and they looked hard pressed to come up with new ways of expressing their regret and disgust.
And of course, the food does look sickening when heaped together like that, but frankly, I’m growing tired of this gimmick. I’m not sure what it does for the family — both the dad and the boys already know they have a problem and are more than ready to change their ways– and even though it’s not the healthiest fare, it did bother me to see mountains of food wasted just for a few minutes of shock value on television. For the millions of food insecure Americans, eating that food would be better than no food at all.
To show Denny that cooking is easy and affordable, Jamie sends him off to buy a typical fast food meal for the family. While Denny’s gone, Jamie and the two boys prepare a lunch of chicken in a homemade tomato sauce, a shredded “rainbow” salad, the dressing for the salad and a beverage. Denny takes forty-five minutes to buy his meal, which cost $31. Jamie’s meal took thirty minutes to prepare and cost $23. The family gathers at the table (which Jamie earlier referred to as “the altar in your home,” a nice way to put it) and Denny gets emotional recalling the family dinners he grew up with. (My daughter and I were wondering, though, whether the kids actually liked the meal they’d prepared — they both looked a little unhappy eating it, we thought.) Jamie promises that his team will come by for “five or six days” to help Denny learn how to shop and cook going forward.
As someone who cooks almost every night and is a big believer in the value of weeknight family dinners, I liked watching this segment of the show. But I wondered if a five- or six-day crash course from Jamie’s team will be enough to really turn this family’s deeply ingrained fast food habit around. I also felt it was a little unfair for Jamie to say that his meal took only thirty minutes, when of course shopping for all that food and cleaning up after the cooking takes significantly more time. I hope Jamie follows up with this family later in the season so that we can see how they’re doing.
Next Jamie takes over a social studies class at West Adams High and brings in a group of adults who have diet-related health problems. There are people who are morbidly obese and/or have high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Many of them exhibit the horrible consequences of diabetes, like neuropathy, amputated limbs and poor eyesight. The students become very emotional when speaking with these adults; Jamie says he wanted the kids to “meet their future,” but now sees that many are already well acquainted with these diseases, as most have parents or grandparents who suffer from them.
This was a very moving segment of the show, but I wasn’t happy with where we went next. Jamie strongly implies that LAUSD is somehow responsible for these kids (or their families???) poor health. He tells us that after the emotional social studies class, there’s a “weird air” around the school and that everyone is “very scared,” and then we learn J.O.’s filming permit has been revoked by LAUSD. Because of the way the show sets things up, the viewer is led to believe that LAUSD was somehow so threatened by the social studies class (but again, how is LAUSD responsible for Grandma’s diabetes?) that it yanked the permits.
I would bet the timing was purely coincidental and, not for the first time, I felt manipulated by the show for the sake of heightening the drama. But whatever the reason for the revocation of the permit, Jamie is furious and says that “We’re the good guys” and “the system [i.e., LAUSD] is the bad guy.” He vows to be like a “rash in their crotch” (!) by “going guerilla,” i.e., setting up his own kitchen right next to West Adams for use by the students, parents and teachers.
The show ends with Jamie attending another school board meeting and, as in the first episode, everything possible is done to make the school board members look as shifty and sinister as possible. For example, the reaction shots of the board members when Jamie is speaking have always looked “off” to me — the board members usually seem zoned out or looking off to the side and I wonder if the show’s film editors are playing with us there. (Second irrelevant side note: how many people were happy to see Crazy Guy giving another of his nutty rants to the school board? If he really is mentally unstable, my apologies, but I’m still convinced he’s an out-of-work actor hoping for a big break.)
Jamie does a great job of vilifying then-Superintendent Ray Cortines, claiming he’s afraid of transparency. To his credit, Cortines doesn’t pass the buck at the meeting. He vigorously defends LAUSD school food and tells Jamie that he is solely responsible for the decision to prevent J.O. from filming. Cortines says, “You and your company have attempted to make the school district a stage,” and it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Jamie isn’t allowed to respond, but he does skewer LAUSD by showing us a Power Point slide from the meeting in which LAUSD says, “Excellence has nothing to fear from observation.”
OK, that’s my wrap-up of Episode Four. Now let me know what you thought in a comment below.
[Ed Note: I’d thought this episode was the last of this season (and maybe forever as the show has not yet been renewed, to my knowledge), but fellow Houston Chronicle blogger Ed Truitt of Tubular tells me there are two more episodes, the last to appear on June 24th. You can compare my impressions of this episode with Ed’s by reading his Tubular recap here.]
Get Your Lunch Delivered and never miss another Lunch Tray post! Just “Like” TLT’s Facebook page or “Follow” on Twitter and you’ll also get bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, discussion with other readers AND you’ll be showing TLT some love. ♥♥♥ So what are you waiting for?